Project Details

Learning How We Wake up from Excited Sleeping Worms

Tomas Eichler, 2017, Fellow Writing-Up

Experience tells us that sleep is vital, yet its biological functions are not entirely understood. During sleep, individuals give up opportunities to reproduce, eat, drink and socialize, and are more prone to predation. Sleep must therefore serve crucial primordial functions. Previous research suggests it has multiple roles, such as the regulation of synaptic plasticity or energy homeostasis. A lack of sleep diminishes daily performance and chronic sleep deprivation causes diseases. A better understanding of sleep and its underlying neural mechanisms is therefore a fundamental aim in biology with high medical relevance. Sleep and sleep-like states are widespread across phylogeny, which opens up research opportunities with model organisms. Here I report a very powerful paradigm in a highly tractable genetic model organism, C. elegans, which will enable future studies to solve one of the biggest unresolved and debated mysteries in neuroscience: why do we sleep? And furthermore: Why and how do we wake up?

I investigate my recent discovery of an arousal regulator, that is an evolutionarily conserved hormone with so far unknown functions in humans, which is possibly a wake-up signal. I propose how it can activate our nervous systems and promote wakefulness.

Finally, C. elegans has been shown as a fruitful model for fundamental biological research attracting experts of various non-biology fields, including physicists and computer scientists. Why not promote C. elegans as a theoretical model organism to KLI fellows and visitors?